During nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria has suffered six lockdowns, more than any other Australian state or territory. It’s a grim milestone.
On Friday evening, restrictions changed again with the bulk of Victorians finally able to enjoy more minor freedoms with up to five adults from two households who have been fully vaccinated able to meet for an outdoor social activity. Prior to that announcement, Insurance Business checked in on two brokers to find out how their businesses have been coping.
The first broker, Shane Brady (pictured below), director of McLardy McShane South East Insurance Brokers, was quite frustrated.
“I live in a part of the world called the Mornington Peninsula which hasn’t had a COVID case for months and months,” he said. “We’re probably as rural as you can imagine but we’re still classed as part of metropolitan Melbourne according to the government. So, we’re pretty dark on the whole lockdown situation.”
Brady is still in lockdown with a curfew from 9pm to 5am, but feels like he should be out.
“I’ve got a young boy, a 15-month-old, running around at home. So, working from home, productivity definitely takes a bit of hit.”
There’s no daycare for the apple of Brady’s eye. In lockdowns, only essential workers are allowed to send their infants to childcare.
“We won’t complain. There’s plenty of other people in worse situations,” he said.
Eighteen months of on and off lockdowns are putting a strain on his brokerage, however.
“Our service model, and something in my business I’m really big on, is building rapport and relationships with clients in face to face. So, we put a real emphasis on going out. When we’ve got renewals coming up, we’ll go out and we’ll see our customers, sit down and have a coffee and have a good chat about the insurances.”
Brady said that builds really strong long-term relationships and it’s been the foundation of the business for a long time.
“There’s only so much you can do over Zoom and phone calls,” he said. “It’s just not the same.”
When IB spoke with Brady he’d just finished another company Zoom meeting that ran 30 minutes late. Brady said the continuous lockdowns have taken away the boutique style of service he’d built his business around.
“Nothing beats sitting in front of a client, eyeballing him and talking about insurance,” he explained.
He said it’s also the best way to build friendship and trust.
However, he said the hybrid work model with Zoom and Skype meetings does have positives, especially for a brokerage like McLardy McShane with offices nationwide.
“It really has some huge benefits to have a mainstream way of communicating with everybody without having to jump on a plane,” he said. “So, from that perspective the work from home model doesn’t phase us in the slightest.”
He said they’d already adopted a hybrid work model before COVID.
In Ballarat, broker Laura Meyer (pictured top), director of MeyerInsure, was in a celebratory mood when she spoke to Insurance Business. She was then out of lockdown.
“It’s great because it means that we can actually get out and see people in the regional areas,” she said.
Meyer could finally hold several postponed face-to-face meetings.
“I think the last one I’ve had to postpone four times,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get to this one because it is due next week, fingers crossed – if we don’t go back into lockdown!”
Unfortunately for Brady, Ballarat did return to lockdown – from 11:59pm on Wednesday, September 15, with restrictions that were due to last for a week.
However, unlike for Brady, in terms of how she works, the lockdowns haven’t had a huge impact.
“To be honest, for me, it’s not a massive difference because I’m so used to the old Zoom and digital life, seeing as it’s the new normal,” she said.
Many of her clients, generally SMEs in regional Victoria, are also adept at the new technology.
“But in saying that I really like being able to meet clients for coffee or meet them at their workplace,” she said. “There’s so much value in actually getting into workplaces and meeting everyone you can and seeing how things run. So, I’m looking forward to being able to do that.”
She said the continuous lockdowns had taken a heavy toll on the businesses and mental health of many of her bricks and mortar clients.
“They are suffering, and I’m incredibly inspired by how innovative a lot of them have been coming up with new business ideas and ways to service their clients, it’s been really heartening to see. But yes, there’s definitely a toll that’s been taken, just the pure unpredictability of it.”
Meyer noted an attitude change among Victorians, possibly because of the more virulent Delta variant.
“Now I think everyone is sort of, ‘Come on, we may as well just open up. We’ve got to get these businesses back up and running again.’ I think Victoria was quite united in months gone by and it’s starting to fracture I think a little bit,” she said.
What business lessons has she learnt from lockdowns?
“It’s been about communicating and just getting in front of as many people as possible, more in a social manner and an educative manner, rather than a proposition,” she said.
Meyer said she’s done that through online networking. Now it’s very different to the days when the only way of networking was attending a local business breakfast event. Social media has changed all that.
“It’s a good way of getting out there and the right people finding you rather than walking around a room full of people you don’t know and hoping that you can give your business card to someone,” she said.